INTERVIEW: SHUTTLE358: AMBIENTRANCE (2001)
INTERVIEW WITH DAN ABRAMS
by David J. Opdyke
His mid-1999 debut of optimal.lp proved "that the 'cold' mechanics of computerized sound can be given distinct warmth and beauty." shuttle358 "draws heavily from the microscopic and ostensibly souless world of digital electrons, giving them loose structure, warmth and life by way of stunningly arranged sound patterns"... to quote these pages.
With his latest release, Frame
, Abrams lets his sound evolve through processes of easy-on-the-ears experimentalism which yield fascinating results...
AmbiEntrance: While I enjoy its obtuse isolationism, Frame seems more experimental and slightly less inviting than optimal.lp; was this "planned", or did it just come out that way?
Abrams: i wanted to evolve my sound.. it became very easy ergo dull for me to manufacture an 'optimal' track.. that plus the fact i have had an experience with an enormous amount of idm/microscopic music since optimal.. i did not design this album *for* a certain audience, but rather it is my impression of those and other ideas, whether i liked them or not.. it's kinda my objective take on the scene.. i've got some new projects, however, that allow for this style of ideas in a more fitting genre.. quite cool.
AmbiEntrance: As far as evolution, were you making music before optimal; if so, what was it like?
Abrams: it was pretty much the same but with cheesier elements in it.. I wasn't brought up on a TB303 or anything, so I was always inspired by william orbit and brian eno.. I wrote ambient music with pianos and bad drum sounds and strings and stuff.. ive always been a fan of good video game music, as well.
AmbiEntrance: What about those artists who keep mining the same sound again and again... is it laziness, lack of talent or "giving the fans what they want"?
Abrams: i cannot speculate on that. that depends on your point of view and financial interest.
AmbiEntrance: How much (percentage-wise) of soundwork is done via the computer compared to being "played" on traditional synths? Can you tell us about your (software/hardware/gear) set-up?
Abrams: a synth IS a computer.. i dont own a 'keyboard' of any sorts.. i have no room and have learned to adapt without one. regarding my modules, i feel the most sucsessful result of a song is how few synths it took to do it.. needless to say i'm constantly downsizing things.. optimal was done 95% with one module, which i just sold for $300. it's not for kicks, its more of a personal life philosophy. My upcoming mille plateux album is made exclusively using my own node-based sampler/step-sequencer script driving arbitrary samples of past work. i find however, that hands-on tools are the best for me.. except for a keyboard, that is. but, whatever.. they are just tools.. i'm sick of hearing about who uses what. it's just about grabbing this shit out of the air cause it's all floating around us all day long.. it's yours for the taking... so i say go ahead, what are you waiting for?
AmbiEntrance: Has anyone ever listened to your music (for instance "Out Out") then said "I think you've got a problem with static..."?
Abrams: i'm sure people have said that about the entire genre.. it's just a style, you don't have to like it.. but, i think it comes off kinda nicely.
AmbiEntrance: Why do you think it is that some folks can listen to these "pops and clicks" and hear beautiful music, while others hear only noise? (I guess the situation could be reversed to include Ricky Martin, etc...)
Abrams: yes exactly.. and some people can do both. some of it is just peoples' personal preference, but mostly it goes back to what i said about how we are not raised in our culture to be creative people. We need to be told what taste is by Ikea and Architectual Digest, or by history books filled with picasso paintings. But on the other hand, if you had that kind of control over people, what would you tell them to do?
AmbiEntrance: The closing track of "Spiff" presents samples about making your work your hobby; are you one of the "lucky ones" referred to? (And who's the photographer?)
Abrams: i always find it fascinating to find someone (from any culture - mainstream or underground) who has the ability to see the continuity and relation between the creative fields.. it's something i strive for. the sample is of a young jerry lewis who was showing off his sampler! he was a big fan of early electronic music and was referring to people in creative fields that have accomplished many different things than were known for.. and then there is the dumbfounded interviewer, who is encountering this lifestyle for the very first time, as the creative-driven life is a concept foreign to many people. we are not raised to be creative people unfortunetly. but the thing is that true creative people - be them scientists or artists all use the same underlying mechianism to create, explore, and solve problems.. this stuff is is like a transferable bus ticket - you can ride all over town if you use it right.
AmbiEntrance: Wow, the Jerry Lewis revelation surprises me... How did you uncover this fact/sample?
Abrams: it turns out late night cable tv is good for something besides uninterupted product marketing.
AmbiEntrance: Can you give some other specific examples of these cross-creative people you admire?
Abrams: One example is that the guy who wrote that ambient score for the film 2001 was an architect. He devised these graphs and charts that had notes interpolated over time and handed them to the various orchestra members. My point is that it is important to have a focus, but there is a connection between everything that you can uncover to an extent, it all branches off from that focal point.
AmbiEntrance: Where do your track titles come from and at which point during the creative process do they hatch?
Abrams: track titles can be at once bothersome and expressive.. they come sometimes very, very late and after many iterations.. they are simply another form of expression. i try to keep mine down to one.. word.
AmbiEntrance:What about "lyndon tree", which has a more "organic" title than the others?
Abrams: It is a more organic track is why.
AmbiEntrance: How do you classify your music? Musically speaking, do you see yourself more as an innovator or a follower?
Abrams: we are all someone else's innovator and our own followers - meaning, we unintentionally inspire/affect others even when copying someone's work, and conversly when we innovate we are only doing so within our own limited experience - which is to say everything has been done, we just haven't experienced it.. i personally try to do things that haven't been done, but there is also merit in doing what someone else has done better.. which in many cases is futile, which is why i avoid it at all costs. but then you get trapped because you copy yourself when you write something you like and it just goes on and on like this..
AmbiEntrance: People are asking where the name "shuttle358" comes from; can you share that information with us?
Abrams: the name is a combination of many sources, including the shuttle 358 circuit board, however i would not like to discuss this since i think it is uninteresting and has no direct relevance to my music.. much the same talking about what kind of midi cables i use and shit like that..
AmbiEntrance: The Frame video is very cool; will we be seeing more such works in the future?
Abrams: hopefully.. the frame
video was very tongue-in-cheek.. but it actually works on some levels. i am excited about doing more video work, especially now that i have much more time.. i'm just waiting for a project to come along..
AmbiEntrance: How was it "tongue-in-cheek"?
Abrams: I purposely did not plan every detail out, and I photographed it in one day.. I just kept it loose to see what I could come up with.. I also wanted to collaborate with some friends, but ended up just doing the whole thing myself which i didnt prefer to do.
AmbiEntrance: You also work as a visual artist/designer; describe some of your projects.
Abrams: i have worked on design projects ranging from transportation design (Honda, Ford school projects), to product and interface design (Ryobi powertools, Acer web-based pda's, Nokia/NTT telephone concepts), furniture design, packaging design, and some graphic design work. Now i find myself working in hollywood as a visual effects artist on feature films.. this is the closest i've found to merging my visual side with my technical side, and my expressive side with my commercial side. also its great to work within a narrative structure, just like my music. probably i'll stick with this for awhile, as it poses a large variety of challenges.
AmbiEntrance: Can you give some examples of your feature film work?
Abrams: i'm finding that it is a different kind of beast to do this stuff.. in that you have to find creativity in the details. my latest project is this film called "fighting like cats & dogs" as a lighting technical director, responsible for designing and implementing the look of the computer generated scenes in their lighting, color, and painted surfaces. It follows the design process exactly - research, ideation, problem solving, execution, but it is also like music where you tweak data to yield musical (in this case visual) results. For example programming shaders (which are the surface textures) is almost *identical* to programming sounds! And its a job that also allows me to work closely with a lot of creative minds including the director and other artists - which is much different than being barricaded in my room writing tracks.
AmbiEntrance: Which came first... the art or the music? Do you consider yourself to primarily be a visual or musical artist?
Abrams: if all i did was music, i would have nothing to draw upon.. i feel it can be kind of an oppressive problem, because you are supposed to express all these life experiences you have but you spend so much time doing it you don't get out of the house. this is why few *fully* expressive artists (ie:no commecial interest) don't create their art full time. it's impossible!
AmbiEntrance: How did you come to be involved with Taylor Deupree at 12k?
Abrams: after hearing his great ambient work and wanting to try to release my material (after much coaxing from friends, mind you), taylor was willing to put me on his .aiff comp and release a full length.. i was blown away with the responses from 'optimal', so, since then i've been busy.. and of course, taylor gave me the opportunities to do some design work, always challenging.
AmbiEntrance: And of course you did the packaging for the .aiff comp (THE coolest packaging I've encountered!) ... how did that particular piece come together?
Abrams: taylor had an idea to package everything in a floppy disk like the 12k logo.. I thought to have it transparent only so it is not so literal.. so it takes on its own identity and essence.. I also personally laser cut and blessed each of the 500 pieces.
it was a fun project.
AmbiEntrance: What are your plans for the future, creatively and/or otherwise?
Abrams: IF there is another s358 album, i would only allow it if i have found either a totally good new sound, or a perfect match between frameand optimal.. otherwise i am now working on downtempo and drum&bass projects with a s358 twist, and looking for a venue to release them. i also plan on listening to less idm/glitch/microscopic music, too.. i've stopped going to idm events and now get more amazed at a really good live jazz club.. you should try it! someday i may be satisfied with just hearing this stuff in my head.. or too lazy to write - which ever happens first.
AmbiEntrance: Will these new drummier sounds NOT be "shuttle358" releases then? Another project name?
Abrams: yes, the mille plateux album etc will just be listed as 'dan abrams'. i dont want to confuse the projects because there are many different styles i can write. most likely any d&b/downtempo work will be under "dj part".
AmbiEntrance: I'm really looking forward to your new sights and sounds... please keep us posted.
Abrams: no prob.